OPPOSING TERROR Murray's Antiterrorism Fellowship in Israel Brings New Meaning to 'Intensive Course'
Written by Toni Salama
The Politics of Terror
As the threat of terror continues worldwide, Gregg R. Murray has found that its ebb and flow--the life-cycle, so to speak, of terrorist acts and their aftermath--directly correlate to voter turnout and citizens' willingness to exchange freedom for safety.
Murray, Assistant Professor of Political Science in the College of Arts & Sciences’ Department of Political Science, teaches courses on political behavior. One of his research interests is studying how terrorist acts affect that political behavior.
Murray furthered that research in Israel this summer as an academic fellow of the Washington-based, non-partisan policy institute Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD). He was awarded a fellowship that included an intensive course in terrorism studies and the opportunity to learn how democracies worldwide can defeat terrorism.
Face to Face with Israeli Antiterrorism Methods
As part of an entourage of FDD fellows, he attended three days of classroom briefings, absorbing first-hand accounts from former Israeli military, police and intelligence officials. The briefings then went beyond the classroom, where Murray's group spent another four days on the road, observing front-line, counter-terrorism field demonstrations.
During his time in Israel, Murray interviewed incarcerated terrorists in a maximum security prison, visited Israel's busiest crossing into Palestinian-controlled territory and toured the Israel-Lebanon border. He was on hand for a bomb-disposal unit's live training exercise, watched an anti-guerrilla unit in training, and observed a live-fire demonstration conducted by an undercover police unit, which he likened to the role of the U.S. Marshals Service in that they are authorized to arrest those suspected of terrorist acts. His group was briefed by officials at every point along the way.
"Israel faces two different issues related to terrorism: one diplomatic, one military," Murray concluded.
In the diplomatic realm, he said, Israel as a democracy has trouble managing its public image--how it is perceived by the rest of the world. "Democracies don’t really protect their images very well because of the transparency required of democratic states," he said. In a comparatively transparent society, he noted, "unlike the political situation for some of its enemies, you can see the bad as well as the good in Israel, so they can’t effectively manage what people see or think."
Murray also observed another component in the diplomatic arena: The Israeli legal system plays a significant role in counter-terrorism policy. In contrast to the small cells of terrorists that Americans typically worry about, Israel faces large, hostile armies on its border. He said this compels Israel to apply the international laws of war versus criminal laws, which are more appropriate against smaller threats. "They also seem to feel this legal shield shows they do not want to lower themselves to the level of terrorist behavior," he said.
Research on the Front Lines
On the military and police fronts, Murray discovered that Israel invests heavily in what he termed human intelligence--agents working on location seeing things and talking with people who have useful information. "They're not as dependent on electronic surveillance as the U.S.," he said.
His most salient take-away from the fellowship: How normal life is despite the constant threat. Israelis are searched before simply going into a shopping mall and live knowing a rocket could be fired at them that could land in a minute or two with no time to react. Yet they busily go about their daily lives, including actively participating in politics and voting.
However, although Murray's fellowship was an eye-opening experience, he decided that Israel's antiterrorism policies don't necessarily transplant directly to America.
"They have tensions with neighbors that we don’t have," Murray said. “Canada and Mexico aren’t firing rockets at us.”
The threats faced by Israel and the United States are quite different, he said. "Ours is large scale, we worry about the next 9/11, while Israel worries about the next rocket attack or suicide bomber on a bus," he said. "And in Israel, strikes come from so close there’s little to no time to intercept them or to react to protect yourself." For Israel, then, prevention is key.
One way the State of Israel has reduced threats, particularly from suicide bombers, is the building of security walls or fences. "They attribute their ability over the last five years or so to stop suicide bombers to the building of the fence. That's interesting in and of itself," Murray observed, "but also interesting in terms of our discussions in the U.S. about building a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border."
Another measure Murray noted--and a fact of everyday life for Israelis--is the incorporation of security screenings not just at airports, as in America, but at shopping malls and other large public spaces.
Back on the Texas Tech campus, Murray reflected that antiterrorism policies in Israel and the United States will have at least this much in common: "There's probably no single solution, but many things that together reduce the likelihood of terrorism."
Antiterrorism in the Classroom
Even though it may not be practical to implement Israeli-style counterterrorism measures here, that doesn't mean Americans can't learn something from them. Especially in some of Murray's classes at Texas Tech University.
Murray sees his fellowship as a fount of current information that will fit well into one of his courses on public policy—with lively discourse on the nuts and bolts of national security and more abstract discussions about the trade-off between liberty and security.
The answers, if they come at all, will not come easily and may never reach an end.
"Let's face it," Murray said. "Given that terrorism is intended to affect a broader audience than the actual victim, if the police and military have become visibly involved in an event, then the terrorists have partly won the battle regardless of the outcome because they've been able to frighten people and draw attention to themselves."
Murray's Take: On Terrorism & Voter Turnout
Murray's voter-turnout research shows that:
• In democracies, terrorism is associated with increased voter turnout.
• If the violence is too intense, then people may be afraid to go outside to vote.
Exception to the Exception:
• Terrorist strikes don't seem to deter Israelis from voting because they live with it, or the threat of it, all the time.
Time Plays a Role:
• The more recent a terror event, the more willing people are to give up a lot of liberty in exchange for security.
• The more time that passes after a terror event, the less likely people are to give up liberties.
• This dynamic shows that policy preferences change over time.
GREGG R. MURRAY Assistant Professor of Political Science